Friday, 18 April 2014


I hate conflict. I hate honesty. It hurts too much to receive someone's true feelings. And it's scary to dish it out to others: The other person might get angry. They might leave. Openness, and vulnerable honesty, in relationships frightens me. I think it frightens a lot of us. 

But relationships without honesty, openness, expression of anger and hurt, are bound to whither and spoil. 

The same is true of our relationship with God. God desires open honesty from us. And if we are honest, we will admit that there are days where we are confounded by Him, angry at Him. There are days when we want to scream at Him. 

When we bury those feelings deep down, we lock ourselves away from the open, honest, gracious presence of God and we retreat further and further from Him. The inability to tell God how we feel, even (especially) when we are angry at Him, is the first stepping stone to smothering our relationship with Him.

Of course, I don't buy the relativistic lie that whatever we feel is right is right, but there is a reality to 'subjective truth,' - that is, a truth to how we feel and perceive. God's desire for truthfulness from us requires telling Him how we really feel, even if deep down we know that our feelings may not be based in 'truth.' He wants real honesty, not forced honesty, a forced adherence to some external concept that has no reality for what we actually feel or perceive. 

That is not to say that God does wrong. When we put Him on trial, He will come out above reproach. 

But when you ignore pain, when you ignore ‘evil’ (whether objective or subjective - whether real or perceived), in a relationship - the relationship dies. Sometimes that can’t be helped. An abusive individual may not be able to accept honest accusation and the relationship must end. But when this is the case, the one who is abused must still be able to name and identify the evil, to name and identify the pain. Or else they continue to be abused internally - closed up, cut off, unable to have relationship with anyone else and susceptible to be used by others. Honesty about what we feel and have received and have experienced is necessary to be a whole, mature, human being - able to live and have freedom and relationship. But in good relationships, real or perceived misdeeds, real or perceived concerns and pains, must also be admitted, and ideally - communicated, or else true relationship withers and dies. True love wants the other person to be free, independent, whole. Someone who doesn't just see things our way because we tell them, but who can be their whole selves, honest and independent with us. That's the riskiness of love. And that's the love God wants with us. 

Christian psychologists Henry Cloud and John Townsend write in their acclaimed book Boundaries "In our deeper honesty and ownership of our true person, there is room for expressing anger at God. Many people who are cut off from God shut down emotionally because they feel that it is not safe to tell him how angry they are at him. Until they feel the anger, they cannot feel the loving feelings underneath the anger." God doesn't want a passive recipient who has no sense of self, no independence. He wants us to stand up as whole, independent, people so that we can embrace Him with all the real love and real, free, relationship that He created us for in the first place. God takes the risk of us getting mad at Him in order to have a real relationship with Him. He doesn't want us to just accept things as passive, weak, slaves, but as whole people who can relate to Him and love Him freely and authentically. 

And you know what? The bizarre and liberating thing is that God doesn't necessarily disagree. We do face injustice, His ways are confounding, there is evil that seems to have no valid explanation. When I am honest with Him, He never tells me to be quiet. Maybe He will after a while, as He did for Job, but He gives me my 30+ chapters of ranting first. 

He just suffers with me. He just walks this earth with me. He just dies for me. He just walks my journey with me, and becomes a victim right alongside of me.

I identify so well with Moses, when he stands on the mountain shouting at God: 'Take my soul but do not punish Israel!' He desperately wanted God to be merciful, and was incensed, angry, despaired, that God might not be merciful to Israel (who certainly did not deserve it!). When a tsunami kills tens of thousands of people on the other side of the world and my theology suggests that these people are all in hell, how can I be at peace? How can I not yell. How can I not plead God to be merciful: 'Break Your own rules! Be unjust! Isn't Your mercy greater?!'

Some tell me to sit down because 'God is God and He gets to do what He wants, and He is perfectly just and cannot contradict His justice, just be thankful that you get saved, because you don't deserve it.' And I guess there's something to that. God told Job that at the end of the day, He is above reproach. 

But I look at Moses on the mountain, and I know he knows what I'm feeling. And so does Job when God lets him shout 'it's not fair!' And Habakkuk reeling: 'why do the wicked prosper and the innocent suffer!?' And, Abraham when he tries to bargain with God to leave Sodom alone for the sake of the handful of good people who might be there.

That is the confounding thing about God - the more He teaches us to love, the more hurtful and the more confusing is the evil in the world, the more He confounds us. But this is the reality of the journey of faith. Indeed, I believe He wants us to be incredulous and to shout back, so that we might really feel His mercy for ourselves, to be incredulous at what seems like a lack of mercy. I imagine God looking down at Moses and smiling:  'now you get it, kid. Now you get it.' 

Until I have screamed at Him 'Break your own rules! Remember mercy!' I haven't really felt love, or desired mercy, like He does. 

Yes, that awful thing you experienced was wrong. And yes, you were horribly abused. And yes, you grew up in a terrible, underprivileged, broken, community that you didn't choose to be a part of. And And the holocaust happened. And I find myself prone to sin when I didn't choose to be a sinner, I was just born this way. But He didn't intervene into these things. And that's enraging. That's confusing. And just as the abused person cannot be whole and complete without being able to identify evil for what it is, God doesn't want us to ignore the pain or the evil we see or experience. Yes, God will come out above reproach, but He lets us scream and question and blame. We can't understand evil, we can't understand love, we can't understand mercy, until we have been free to feel these things for what they are. 

Indeed, Jesus knows too. When Martha accuses Him: 'why weren't you here to save Lazarus?' Jesus doesn't rebuke her, he just breaks down and weeps.

And on that cross, he shouts with us, as one of us: "Why have you forsaken me!?" He shares in the words of David in his fear, anger, confusion when God seemed to abandon Him.  The shouts of anger and incredulity across the centuries all get summed up in Jesus on the cross. He doesn't just say 'well this is the way things are - sucks doesn't it?' He screams NO. This is not the way things are supposed to be. Evil is evil, tragedy is tragedy, wrong is wrong. 

And as one who believes in a real Satan, a prince who ruled this world in death until he was defeated in the resurrection, God shouts a resounding NO at his rule, at his power, at his order. God doesn't just stand off disconnected as a sovereign who knows nothing of what it's like to be one of us, who toys around with us like puppets and tells us to just swallow that this is the way things are, but He comes in as the rebellious warrior against the kingdom of death, who says NO to the present order. God shouts NO with me at brothels, tsunamis, hell, judgment, sin, and abuse. I'm not told to just accept these things and get over it, but to reel, scream, condemn, and say NO. He says NO with me. 

We are so prone to shut down our own feelings in the name of 'faith.' We tell ourselves that our feelings are invalid since, after all, we have all these theories and systems and apologetic answers for the problem of evil. Yes, indeed, our perception of evil and injustice is really just a misunderstanding of God's sovereignty, etc. etc. etc. but if we just read a couple more C.S. Lewis books (see A Grief Observed for Lewis at his most honest), we can bury those feelings away and get over it. What a pathetic god. A god who needs us to fashion a theological system to justify Him. 
Credit: Don McCullough on Flickr

Our faith should not rely upon a system. Our faith does not hang upon a theodicy. I don’t believe we can ‘justify the ways of God to man,’ as Milton attempted. We can think through logical quandaries, we can play around with answers, and maybe come up with something sufficient for us in different ways and at different points in our journey, but they are not ultimately sufficient. We cannot prove God’s case for Him. To do so is to trust in a philosophical system, not the Living God. That’s a God we can predict and control and put in a test-tube. A computer program. But no. He’s wild, unpredictable, remarkable. The Judge: all reason, all answer, rests with Him. Not with us. And because of that fact, we are free to be open and vulnerable before Him. To be ready to be put in our place, indeed, but not to put Him in place for ourselves. He's got that covered. And as long as we put Him in place for Himself, we have made Him distant, disconnected, uncaring for our feelings and patronizing. 

But that's not who He is. 

As Barth put it, He is not just the Judge. He is also the ‘Judge, judged in our place.’ The One who gave up all rights to defend Himself, to take ‘responsibility' for all the evil. To take the responsibility for it all: Both our own mistakes, and for the very kingdom of Satan itself. He fulfills Satan's claim upon us. 

'God, get down off your throne and rescue the girls who are in brothels being raped!' 

He doesn't say 'get over it kid, you just don't get it. If you'd just let me explain, you'd understand that this is the best of all possible worlds. . . '

He might tell me to be quiet. He might remind me that I was not there when the world was made. I cannot tame Leviathan. There are days we need humbled. 

 But he also whispers, I know.' 

His voice wanders through the streets and somewhere in the quiet sobs of a 13 year old girl who has had all innocence stolen from her you can hear the echo throughout the ages of that first Good Friday: 

'Why have you forsaken me!!!!!?' 

And broken, weeping, with the Comforter by my side, groaning in and with and through me, I look up at the cross. I see blood and tears. I see tsunamis, and suicides, and brothels. I see a God of remarkable humility, remarkable grace, remarkable power. I don't know how it all fits together, I don't know how He's going to pull it all off, but I know He feels anger and pain and love, more painfully and more powerfully than I do. I can't justify Him, I just gaze at the cross. And after I've had it out, after I've done my part to put the nails in, I fall down and know I am forgiven. In awe. I know I am heard. I know somehow that His love will work all these things out. I can have faith. 

Somewhere in the darkness and the screaming and the forsakenness, I know that Sunday's coming. I did not know how to hope for it until I had known despair. 

1 comment:

  1. Again, giving words to questions that snarl in my mind.